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The Mangroves of the World

Updated: Dec 21, 2023

Mangroves. Photo credit: Unsplash/Rod Long

Are you ready to talk about one of nature’s most important biomes? Let’s get into it!

What are Mangroves?

Have you seen pictures of trees on shorelines whose roots seem to be totally immersed in water? What are these trees? Are they some special species that live by the ocean? The answer is yes! These very specialized trees and shrubs found along the shores of the world are called Mangroves.

Mangrove forest biomes are found in tropical and subtropical coastal tidal regions, around estuaries and marine shorelines around the world. They are perpetually waterlogged.

Since sea water has high salt concentration, the trees and plants that grow in the Mangroves have adapted a mechanism to filter out the saline content in the water. The Mangrove’s unique stilt-like roots can be as thin as a pencil or as large as a tree trunk! The above ground roots suck in oxygen from the air which is then fed into the tissues of roots submerged in the water. These roots act as natural trappers of carbon in the atmosphere.

There are around 110 Mangroves worldwide but only about 54 are termed true Mangroves. True or exclusive Mangrove species are adapted to only saline, waterlogged shorelines. They don’t extend into terrestrial plant areas. Trees and plants that grow in the coastal environment and some within the Mangroves are referred to as Mangrove associate species. Over 100 tropical and subtropical countries have Mangrove forests along their shorelines. The largest amount of Mangrove coverage can be found in Indonesia, where Mangrove trees cover about 12,000 square miles (31,000 square kilometers).

Mangrove beauty. These are the only trees that can survive in saline and oxygen depleted oceanic waters
Mangrove beauty. These are the only trees that can survive in saline and oxygen depleted oceanic waters. Photo Credit: Kimberley

Mangrove Flora

The Black Mangrove is the most common Mangrove in the United States found outside the Everglades. The straw-like spikes surrounding this plant are pneumatophores. The Mangrove trees dominate this wetland ecosystem due to their ability to survive in both salt and fresh water. Mangroves consist of shrubs which are only few feet (few meters) to over 131 feet (40 m) tall above water.

Black Mangrove
Black Mangrove. Photo Credit:


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Mangrove Fauna

Snail, barnacle, mollusk, sponge, shrimp, jellyfish and a horde of other water bound denizens all live around Mangrove roots. Some invertebrates thrive in the Mangrove canopy, of which the most abundant are the crabs. Mangrove swamps harbor all types of well-known and exotic waterbirds such as the snowy egret, crane, frigatebird, cormorant, hoatzin, boat billed heron, and the Mangrove cuckoo. Mammals include the rare Bengal tiger, crowned sifaka and many more common and fabulous species. The “living fossil” horseshoe crab, extant since at least 480 million years, live in brackish Mangrove waters.

Long necked crane enjoying its Mangrove abode
Long necked crane enjoying its Mangrove abode. Photo Credit:

The rare Sifaka. Photo Credit: Unsplash/Bob Brewer

The majestic Bengal tiger in Mangroves of Sundarbans
The majestic Bengal tiger in Mangroves of Sundarbans. Photo Credit:

Why are the Mangroves important?

Mangroves protect their ecosystem. Their dense roots help bind and build soil. Their above-ground roots slow down water flow and encourage sediment deposits that reduce coastal erosion. The complex Mangrove root systems filter nitrates, phosphates and other pollutants from the water, improving the water quality flowing from rivers and streams into the estuarine and ocean environment. Mangroves provide a variety of ecosystem services, including supporting fisheries and providing hurricane and cyclonic storm protection. Worldwide, Mangroves contribute about $1.6 billion each year to local economies.

What is the future of Mangroves, worldwide?

Today, the Mangrove biomes face a huge threat due to human activities around the globe like dredging, filling, water pollution from herbicides, uncontrolled fishing, and construction projects. This has led to Mangrove erosion and habitat destruction on a massive scale. When the Mangrove forests are cleared and destroyed, they release huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing immensely to climate change. People living near Mangroves use the forests as a source of building materials, farming fuel, and fish. On a small scale, these activities are sustainable. However, with the growing population, the destruction is on a mammoth scale.

Fortunately, in many countries many organizations and government are taking steps to curb such practices. In many places new Mangrove trees are planted. This is encouraging indeed!

Sensational Mangroves. Photo Credit: Unsplash/David Clode

Did you know?

It has been estimated that Mangroves trap carbon more than ten times compared to terrestrial forests of the same size all due to the Greenhouse effect. Most Mangrove carbon is stored in the soil aiding in the conservation and recycling of nutrients beneath the forest floor.

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